Do The Right Thing

Do The Right Thing  /do͞o T͟Hə rīt THiNG/  phrase. – the title of a 1989 American comedy-drama film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee. The story explores a Brooklyn neighborhood’s simmering racial tension, which culminates in violence and a death on a hot summer day.

Interview with Lisa

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

Well, I’m originally from Moberly, Missouri, which is a really small town in Missouri. We moved to St. Louis when I was about 12 or 13 years old. And then I went to Clark Atlanta University, graduated with a mass communications degree, mass media arts degree, and I started my television news career in stations in St. Joseph, Missouri, then Decatur, Illinois, and then, ultimately, Kansas City, which was a city that I really wanted to move to. I fell in love with Kansas City while I was living in St. Joseph because I would come up here to kind of hang out and club with my friends and stuff. I just felt like it had all the allure of the big city, but to me it felt like a small town, which is what I was used to. And so, I just set up roots here. I met my husband in ‘06 and we married in ‘08. And so this was my city, my town. I’m from St. Louis, like I said, when I was 12 or 13 we moved to St. Louis, so that’s where my sisters are, but I definitely consider Kansas City my home now more than I ever considered St. Louis home.

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After working about 12 years in Kansas City at KSHB TV, it became evidently clear that all of my attempts at promotions…opportunities…everything, they just were not within my reach. Initially I was just looking for anchoring jobs. I wanted to grow into an anchor position, weekend anchoring, which is what I did in my previous markets in St. Joe and Decatur, Illinois. So I kept applying for the anchoring division to get back on the anchor desk. I always loved the weekend anchor spot cause I felt like you got the best of both worlds. But, I also wanted to move on the pay scale too…with marriage and family and the expectation of kids, all those things…you know…you want to move up the financial ladder as well. But after 2012…2013, it was clear that it was not going to happen to me, as far as anchoring.

But I’ve been at the station for so long and I love Kansas City and I enjoyed the station. I just felt like maybe they just didn’t see me as an anchor. Like clearly these people do not see the anchor in me, you know, like my previous bosses did. So I was like, Okay, let me move into investigative roles, where I’m growing as an investigative reporter. I had already won an Emmy for continuing coverage. So, I felt like I’d been validated as a journalist, as a reporter. I knew that was my shine, I knew that was a space that I did thrive in, even in their eyes. So in 2015 I applied for a position as an investigative reporter at KSHB-TV. The news director at the time told me they were looking for someone that already had data mining experience in an investigative unit and so that’s why they were not going to allow me to be promoted to the position.

And again, I was disappointed. Like, now I look back on it, it’s crazy, but I was disappointed, but I was like, Okay, they want someone who already has data mining experience… Even though I knew there had been white people who’d been promoted up through the general assignment ranks. The same thing I was trying to do had been allotted for white people, just not for me. But they went on, and within a couple of months and hired a woman who had three years of weekend anchoring experience and had nine and a half years of nursing experience…she had no experience in an investigative unit. And so, it was other things, but those were the realities of like the lights just kinda flicking on in my mind, helping me to understand what was really happening. At the time I didn’t even have the words for it, I knew it was weird that I wasn’t getting the same opportunities as my white coworkers, It was weird that I was good but not good enough. It was like…it’s almost like I would see it but then not see it. I would notice it, but pretend as though I didn’t. And again, at the time I didn’t even have the words to assign to it. It was just living. These were my lived experiences. But because of that, and other things going on in the news room, that’s when I filed my EOC complaint against the station, alleging racial discrimination. And that went on and I got my right to sue.

And then, it would’ve been May of 2018 — cause the legal process is such a long, long process — I posted an article on a personal Facebook page entitled “How White Women use Strategic Tiers to Avoid Accountability.” It was literally 9:04 on a Wednesday night, after I put my kids to sleep, I’m just stumbling through Facebook looking at stuff and I saw the article…read the article…I thought it was great. It had a video clip attached to it and I shared the article. 1) because I wanted my sister to see it cause I thought it was some really powerful information. And, 2) I wanted to also get back to it so that I could look at the video which was embedded in the article. And then, the next day is when I was suspended from my job at KSHB for creating a hostile work environment based on race and sex. A few weeks later is when they told me that it was because of that article and a Black Panther meme, that I shared on my personal Facebook page. That would have been around May 11th-ish of 2018…they non-renewed my contract, or terminated me, in June, 2018…which put me on this mad dash and quest for information.

I didn’t understand why my two white coworkers were so offended by the article that both of them told HR at the time that they thought it was either a fireable offense or that I was creating a toxic work environment. I just didn’t understand why they were so offended by the article. You know, when I worked in television news for over 20 years and showing people of color in a negative light was every night at 10 — it was a part of the culture of television news, I never really spent the time to think about it, but it’s always people of color we’re showing a negative light, it’s not white people — I didn’t catch that me sharing an article that put white people in a negative light would be a problem. I knew historically and traditionally that local news is all about black and Brown people doing bad things and publicizing that on the local news.

So that’s what kind of reset the trial. Because now they added retaliation into the trial itself. And I went to trial in January of 2019 and February 8th of 2019 a jury of seven white people and one Indian man found KSHB-TV guilty of retaliation and not guilty of racial discrimination. Which was so interesting to me…how they could be guilty of one but not the other. But considering the jury of my peers was not quite the jury of my peers, I was surprised….I guess I was happy to get anything. I was concerned that my story would not resonate with any of the jurors, because unfortunately with the way that the federal court system is set up — and honestly the court system period — it’s hard to really get a jury of your peers when you’re a person of color.

So, that search for information and understanding of what was happening… The main anchor at the time, Chris Dubill, was one of the girls who was so offended, she and I worked together for over a decade. She and I both were, you know, “boy moms”…we talked about houses…cars…weight loss. I would not have said we were best friends, but I definitely would have considered her a work friend. I would’ve considered us friendly at work. And so I was so taken aback — and now I’m far enough away from it to know that my feelings were hurt. And even now, getting to a place where I have the words to allow myself to humanize myself, it hurt my feelings that my white coworkers would betray me in such a way.

It hurt my feelings that other women would betray me this way. Especially growing up in predominantly white areas, I was so used to being around white people. I assimilated to whiteness…I didn’t realize I was doing it. But clearly, that was part of the reason that I got all the success that I did, even in my career and working in small towns…because growing up in Moberly, I was used to being around majority white spaces. And so, I was foolish and naive in hindsight in thinking that my white coworkers saw me as their equal. They saw me and they saw my humanity. But this experience made it crystal clear to me that to my white female coworkers, I was something other than what they were. I was something other than a working mom. I was something other than a wife, something other than what their lived experiences were. Cause, had they seen me as their equal and like them, there’s no way they would have called for my job, my insurance, my livelihood because I dared to read an article that they didn’t like.

But fast forward… through my trial…through this quest for knowledge…and Robin DiAngelo‘s work played a key role in me understanding the way white people see race and how they respond in racial spaces. But, that’s made me commit to my life’s work moving forward… to helping to normalize race. Because, without us being able to bring our authentic selves to every space as people of color, the hope of equity in the space is lost. There’s no chance because unfortunately much like the civil rights movement, it’s not going to be won by one group of people — there were allies in the civil rights movement. There has to be allies in this space when it comes to equalizing or normalizing conversations about systemic racism and racial equity in every system and institution in which we participate in. And, I believe now that systemic racism and institutionalized racism show up in every space. But you don’t know what you don’t know and I didn’t know. Now that I do know, I want to be part of the movement to help other people understand how race and racism shows up in every space.

“At the time I didn’t even have the words for it, I knew it was weird that I wasn’t getting the same opportunities as my white coworkers, It was weird that I was good but not good enough. It was like…it’s almost like I would see it but then not see it. I would notice it, but pretend as though I didn’t.”

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

The thing about this…now I can see it because I’m outside of it…but because I was raised in Moberly, Missouri, I was raised in white spaces. I was raised to assimilate to whiteness. In hindsight I can tell you that the fact that I don’t know how to comb my natural black hair is proof in the pudding that there was a natural rejection of me in order for me to be comfortable or be fully accepted into white spaces and understanding that society was rejecting my natural black self, as was I. There was no desire for myself to learn my own hair. There was no desire for myself to accept my blackness — my wide hips, my broad nose, my broad shoulders, my hair — the things that identify me as my individual self. There was no acceptance from myself. I would say in hindsight, it’s almost like I was born into that mindset that what I was wrong and white was right. And I lived that out. You know, I think I went through one stint in college where I grew out my natural hair. But, even then I had it straightened every week. I still didn’t wear it natural. If my hair was natural, it was under a hat so I can go to the stylist and get it straightened out.

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And so I feel like I was born into this and the wake up call came on this side for me. I did not realize how much I was assimilating, which is why I did honestly believe that these women were my friends. I thought we were equals. I thought when they invited me to their houses for barbecues and cookouts, it was just because we were friends. In reality, I was their “black friend”, which was something different. Whereas now, when I enter the exact same spaces, I cannot get comfortable. I just cannot be comfortable because I know the truth now. It’s like you can’t unring a bell. you can’t unlearn something. Now it’s clear to me,…I’ve always only been the one person at their home. They’ve only had one black friend and that was me.

Before, I would have noticed it, but it would not have bothered me. Whereas now…I can’t help but wonder, Why only me? Why am I the only black person in this space? Why am I the only black friend? So, again, because of my upbringing in Moberly, Missouri, I feel like I was born into assimilating to whiteness. And so, I’ve had to learn to love myself the way that God made me — not the way that society says I should look…the way society says my body should look…my hair should look…the way I should talk…because everything that is natural to me, I believe I was socialized to reject.

How would you define beauty?

I mean it’s so crazy cause now I would define beauty as authentic self confidence — knowing who you are, and walking in your authentic self every single day. But it took me to this space to get there, you know? That wasn’t what I was working towards in my thirties. In my thirties I was working towards trying to get a smaller body, a smaller waistline, longer hair, trying to grow my hair out. All these things that society said was beautiful is what I was working towards. Whereas now, I’m at a place of my own awakening, if you will. I still have not arrived, because I’m still learning and growing and honestly having to see myself in myself again. There are things that I do and I’m like, Lisa, why did you do that up? That’s why you did that… Because I’m still so used to rejecting who I am that I have to catch myself in these moments. Even in saying, No, Lisa, don’t do that. No, we’re not doing that. Why would you do that, Lisa? So now I think it’s the confidence to walk into a space being your authentic self. To me that is beauty. Then that’s what I’m still working towards.

“There was no desire for myself to learn my own hair. There was no desire for myself to accept my blackness — my wide hips, my broad nose, my broad shoulders, my hair — the things that identify me as my individual self. There was no acceptance from myself.”

How would you define Black beauty? Black style?

Having the confidence to walk into a space as yourself, as your authentic self, regardless who else is in this space. I guess that’s what I’m working towards now — the black beauty part. Because I think as a black woman, we come in so many different…literally shapes and sizes and, and lived experiences. And that’s something else I learned. We are not monolithic. You know, we are also socialized to believe that we speak for the black community. We speak for the black church, black people, black neighborhood because our society groups us and we group us. So one of the beauties of this experience for me was learning that I am an individual. Because the truth is even my former coworkers, the ones of color, didn’t necessarily share my lived experience at KSHB and some of them didn’t even support my journey. And so it’s foolish of me to think just because they have black skin that they would support me. And so to me, black beauty again goes back to having the confidence to walk into a space as your authentic self and allow the room to move to you versus you changing for the room.

Robin Smith

Since you were on television, you were an example for Black girls that wanted to be journalist. Did you a Black individuals you looked up to growing up?

When I was a little girl, I didn’t like watching the news because it was so negative. Even as a child, or as a preteen teenager, I was aware of that. But, Robin Smith was the anchor, a black woman anchor at the CBS affiliate, KMOV in St. Louis, and I remember my uncle watching the news — the negative news — at night, and him saying, Oh, Lisa, you look just like Robin Smith. And I looked at her, this is this beautiful Brown skinned woman…at the time, her hair was medium hair length and I looked at her trying to see me…and I could see her beauty, but at that time in my life, I would have been maybe 12 or 13 years old, I didn’t see that level of beauty in me. But again, I’m coming out of Moberly, Missouri, so I wasn’t socialized to see beauty in short kinky hair, round nose, full lips. I wasn’t socialized to see that. I saw beauty growing up in Northern Missouri that looked very much like blonde hair, blue eyes, white girls, and so that was beauty. And so for my uncle to see this beauty, to speak about this beautiful woman, Robin Smith, on the news and say that she looks like me or I look like her…I was mesmerized. I was hooked. Every time I would see her on the news, I was trying to see if I could see myself in her. And I was trying to see how my uncle, who’s a man I admired, could look at her and think that she and I had any affiliation, that there was any connection between this beautiful woman and me. So yeah, I absolutely believe that representation matters when it comes to news, television shows, plays, schools, educators, teachers. Representation matters more than we acknowledge it in our world because little black and Brown boys and girls have to be able to see themselves in order to believe that they fit in the picture.

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It was so rare, outside of Whitney Houston, that you would even see black women on television…especially for me growing up in Moberly, Missouri. And so yeah, I think representation matters. Even now, there’s a movement — you can see in local and even national media — more and more black women wearing their natural hair on air. I think that’s going to have a resounding effect on little girls and boys watching these television news reporters, these people on television saying, You matter, you are here, you fit in this picture, you fit in this box.

Why do you Black individuals, like Viola Davis, are finally getting their time in the limelight?

We have to understand that the spirit of anti-blackness does exist in this country, period. it’s derived from slavery, Jim Crow, it’s just a reality of the culture of the world that we live in, the America we live in. And so that anti-blackness coupled with who controls the money….Who is the decision maker? Who’s deciding who gets the opportunity to act in this movie? To be the main anchor in this newscast? Who’s making that decision? So often it was, and still is for the most part, white men. So who are they gonna give these coveted positions to? Who are they gonna give these main anchor positions to? Who are they going to give these acting assignments and contracts to? They’re going to be people who look like them, look like their mothers, look like their daughters, look like their sisters.

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And so, the opportunity…it’s just not been there. It’s not until you get people of color in the decision making role that you’re going to see more and more black people on the silver screen, on your local news. Black people making it a requirement. I mean you’ve also seen, in recent years, more organizations stepping up, and making issue of there being a lack of representation when it comes to local news. But even that little, the kick up and dust they create in that space — specifically the National Association of Black Journalists — is very limited because the very thing people are complaining about — the lack of representation on the news, the lack of representation in top and middle management — are the same people that are hoping to sponsor their annual convention. And so they can make a comment, they can say something and send a nasty letter, but the accountability arm is not there because…Do they have the power to even hold these organizations accountable? And are they even willing to? Because it’s going to cost them… By the time you kick up enough dust and draw enough attention to what you have decided is racial disparities, or discrimination, or bias, then you’ve got to believe that there’s going to be ramifications from that. And so I think these organizations are well meaning, but whether or not they have the heat, the manpower, or the money to actually hold these corporations accountable…I would say, no, honestly.

But the more you see the Shonda Rhimes of the world…Ava DuVernay’s of the world… the Tyler Perry’s of the world who are creating their own storylines, creating their own studios…Then you’re going to see more and more regular black people being celebrated on the silver screen. You’re gonna see more and more regular black women celebrated and being shown and lifted up and hoisted as symbols of beauty, which is absolutely resonating with young people. When I can look at an actress and see Brown skin and kinky hair and full lips and she is now symbolizing the beautiful woman…I can believe that beauty lies in me. And that’s true for the current-day-Lisa, and that’s also true for seven-year-old-Lisa and all the seven year old Lisas that are still sitting in front of the screens today. So I think the change that we’re seeing now absolutely has everything to do with black people, people of color, making decisions, putting themselves in good decision and money making positions. It’s like if you’re always the one looking for the job, then you’re never the one in the hiring position to decide who gets the job. And too often in our history we were the work looking for the job, not granted positions.

What do you feel you have accomplished in your life?

I’m most proud, definitely, of my two children — I have a six year old and a three year old. They are absolutely my greatest accomplishment. I’m also very proud of my television news career. I’m proud of the 20 plus years I worked in television news at ABC affiliates and NBC affiliates. I’m proud of the work that I’m doing now. I feel like this is the most beneficial work that I’m doing now. It’s the most impactful. When I became a journalist, I absolutely felt like I was going to be able to challenge mindsets and transform ideas and thoughts and help people see the world in a different way. But unfortunately, the reality of television news and the reality of the media is the people who control the purse strings oftentimes control the narrative too. And so I’m very happy to be in a place where I am able to host anti-racism, diversity, inclusion trainings. I’m able to talk about unconscious bias, microaggressions, all these things, that even 10 years ago I didn’t have words for. So not only am I an expert in this space, but I’m able to share with other people the work that I’m doing so they can have the words to understand what’s happening to them and wherever they are — whatever organization, companies, school — they can understand the racial dynamics that are in play and how they show up in relationships and how they absolutely hold people of color back and how they benefit white people. So I’m happy to be in a place where I’m able to have those sometimes difficult conversations.

What are your personal dreams?

Personally I mean… I remember during the trial, the defense counsel tried to convince jurors that I was a world traveler and I sat there in like a pool of my own tears — I don’t know why that hurt my feelings — but I want that to be true one day. My hope is to continue to build my business, to continue to enlighten others about the realities of diversity, inclusion, anti-racism and systemic racism and how it shows up in every institution. I want to be able to travel the world with my family while doing that.

“Anti-blackness is real. Systemic racism is real. And so I think that’s something we’re not having real conversations about — how race impacts everything that we do.”

What is one major problem minorities face that you would like to bring awareness to?

I would say systemic racism….Your common everyday public school, private school, college..your normal everyday person — even coming from a middle class, black home — doesn’t realize how the system…systemic racism…and how institutions that we were born into were absolutely founded in systems that were against blackness. Anti-blackness is real. Systemic racism is real. And so I think that’s something we’re not having real conversations about — how race impacts everything that we do. And because we’re socialized to be so uncomfortable about conversations about race, that means we’re not moving the needle. How can we fix a problem we’re not willing to talk about? And so I find that in black spaces we, as black people and people of color, we’re able to have conversation amongst ourselves about race and racial dynamics.

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Something as simple as what part of town not to drive in after dark. I lived in Mission, Kansas and I knew exactly what routes to take and not take on my way back home from work when I worked at three o’clock in the morning. And so we’re having conversations amongst ourselves as people of color. But that conversation has to be illuminated across cultural lines, across racial lines. We have to get to the point where white people are just as aware of racial biases and what shows up and how it shows up and how it impacts black people, people of color. And so, White people have to carry the mantle too. They have to move bricks when it comes to dismantling systemic racism.

And I think a huge part of getting there is education. Trainings and workshops and helping people to normalize the conversation and engage in these sometimes uncomfortable conversations in hopes of getting to the other side. So that everyone in the space — whether that’s school, whether that’s law enforcement, police departments, local government, national government, — everyone in this space feels as though they are free to bring their authentic selves to work or school, wherever they are. But because we’re not having these conversations, a lot of people who walk into work every day feeling as though they’re serving time versus being able to pursue their passion.

“When you look at generational wealth in the country and how it’s broken down, it’s very clear that there are people who have clear advantages coming out of the womb when it comes to opportunities just because of the family they’re born into.”

What are you dreams for society?

My dream for society is that everyone will be open to learning about one another and growing. Being open to other people’s lived experiences, open to the reality and the truth of how we got here. I mean, when you think about the meritocracy…we want to believe that everyone got where they got because they’ve earned their way and they’ve fought, they’ve worked hard. But when you look at generational wealth in the country and how it’s broken down, it’s very clear that there are people who have clear advantages coming out of the womb when it comes to opportunities just because of the family they’re born into. And that’s not, you know, a pity party for those who are not born into those situations. But there needs to be a reality check. So I definitely think that my hope for society is that we become a society of listeners who are willing to speak our truth.

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

I think we have to start having open and honest conversations about our true lived experiences. And not just as people of color or black people, but period. I think we just have to be open to communicating with each other, open to listening to one another, and really leave our preconceived notions — our ideas or biases, which we don’t even realize that they’re actually programmed by the media — but kind of check our biases and our preconceived notions at the door and be willing to listen to one another and our true lived experiences in hopes of growing as individuals and growing together as a society.

“Bring your authentic-self into the space. I believe that will make us, as black people, happier. It will challenge people around us to learn and grow so that everyone in the room, everyone in the space feels as though they belong.”

What advice would you give to other Black people?

Be your true self from day one. I think that we as people of color, black people, we are so used to assimilating and code switching..and performing, honestly, just to be received in a space. So my advice to black people would be to bring your authentic self into the room and allow yourself to be known in that space. Allow yourself to be vulnerable in that space and allow yourself to connect with other people in that space as your authentic self. It’ll be better for you because we’re so used to performing that we don’t realize how many connections we’re not making because we never really entered the space. It’s almost like sending your representative into a room, that’s not who you are. You’re walking into a room, you’re pretending like you’re someone you’re not just so that you’lll be accepted in the room. So my advice to black people would be…bring your authentic-self into the space. I believe that will make us, as black people, happier. It will challenge people around us to learn and grow so that everyone in the room, everyone in the space feels as though they belong.

What advice would you give to non-Black individuals to help them understand the Black experiences?

I would encourage non-black people to educate themselves about racial dynamics and how they show up in every system in which we operate. And once you educate yourself about race and systemic racism and systems and how it shows up and the ramifications of race in every system, then be willing to make authentic connections with people of color, black people, so that you can be a safe space. Because I think that’s part of the problem. I’ve had white people on both sides of this lived experience talk about how they don’t feel like they try to make a black friends and they never feel like they really make a genuine connection. So yeah, I think White people have to take the journey of knowledge, they have to be interested enough to pay attention and learn, and then they have to be willing to connect with black people or people of color so that they can grow from the relationship — versus kind of observing…where t’s almost like the connection is not there. It’s like you’re invited into their space just so they could say they have a lot of friends, but the genuine connection is not there. So, yeah, I guess educate yourself, listen and learn.

There is a lot of behind-the-scenes strategy when it comes to reporting. How can news agencies be better about reporting the truth about a story but not create stereotypes about minorities?

I think we would have to have more black people in the top and middle management decision making positions. That goes back to what I said earlier. Unfortunately, so often, black people are the ones looking for the job, hoping for the opportunities. Even when you get into it, the psychological safety is not there to where you can challenge your boss, you can challenge your editor, you can challenge your news director in such a way to say, You know what? I don’t think that was a fair story. Because you know in your mind that if you push back, there’s a very good chance you’re going to be pushed out. So in order for us to get beyond that hurdle, that reality for black people working in these spaces, you have to have black people who are talking in their authentic voices and authentic selves in these decision making, top level management positions so they would be the ones that look at the content and to look at the scripts and look at the way in which black people, black men especially, are being portrayed on the news and admit that’s not a fair and balanced depiction.But that’s not happening.

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In was the opening statements in my federal court trial when my former employer’s opening statement painted me as an angry, black, violent woman…and I’d worked at that company for 14 years…and I’m like, Wait a minute, I knew this was going to be a fight, but I thought it was going to be a fair fight. And it was clear to me from opening statements that God Lisa, you were a contributor in this…you are complicit cause as a reporter working in these spaces that’s not right. The fact that we know it’s not right, but either we choose not to or we know we don’t have the psychological safety or the job security to push back, because the pushback wouldn’t be a day…it would be a continuous. You would constantly have to check the behavior every single time. It’s like every time your neighbor tries to impede on your yard, you’re going to check the behavior and say, Hey, you’re in my yard. You’re in my yard. You’re doing this again, until the behavior seizes. But unfortunately black people in these spaces don’t have the power to do that. So even if you get someone who rises up one day and says, Hey, I don’t think that’s right, they’re not going to keep doing that because in time that level of pushback is going to cost them.

So I think what we need is black people in the decision making positions for the psychological safety and in positions so that when they push back, it’s not seen as a negative because everyone, including the white people, in the decision making space can understand the importance of presenting balanced stories about people of color and black people…because they understand that they are creating the mindsets that will be the biases that we see in the courtroom of the jurors who will decide on the cases in regards to black people.

But even that cyclical effect of how the media presents people in a certain light…you have the consumers who take that, who consume that local news, and then they go out and they come across a random black man sitting on his own couch in his own house and you shoot and kill him. What is that? That’s crazy, right? That is crazy. It’s a crazy story when you think about it. He was in his own house, on his own couch, eating ice cream and she’s a trained police officer. And even if she accidentally got into his house, why did she kill him? At what point did she think the threat was? Because, it said that he was basically in his underwear, right? So where was the threat? There was no threat outside of his black skin. And where did she learn that black skin men are a danger to society? Oh, that will be the local news. That will be the national news. And so until we get people in those decision making positions who get that and understand the fight is real and who are fighting for the balance. Because when you’re fighting for the balance you are also fighting for the minds of others in the lives of others.

When researching your background… I read you once had been giving an assignment to a known KKK member. Could tell me more about that story?

It was a guy who was trying to open up a club in Odessa, Missouri. He was opening up a nightclub, but the community was concerned that if he opened up a nightclub. He would use it to recruit these rural, country, white kids for the KKK, cause they knew he was like a grand Marshall or whatever they call it with the KKK. And so, after the story came about, my news director, she asked me to go to his house and knock on the door because the community was basically in an uproar over this guy opening a club in their neighborhood. And so she told me — I’ll never forget it — She was like, Oh, Lisa, we want you to walk to the house and knock on the door and see what he says about the community basically telling him to get out. And they told me they wanted me to MMJ it, which means I work by myself. And I was like, Well, I don’t mind going to the door, but I really don’t want to go by myself, and my news director at the time, Peggy Philip says, You’ll be fine, you’ll be fine. And sure enough, because again, my own internalized racial inferiority and my own internalized racial oppression…didn’t have sense enough to push back. I should have, even in that space, been able to say as a black woman, Hell no, I’m not doing that by myself. If you want to send someone out here with me to knock on this door, I will do it. But I didn’t even have it within myself to even do that. So I called my husband…drove to Odessa, Missouri…and had him on the phone with me. Literally, the whole thing. I’m knocking on the door, he’s on the phone with me. The guy didn’t answer the door, he wasn’t even home. But even at the time I didn’t even love myself enough to say no. I should’ve just said no.

There’s a negative side to being the outspoken individual or whistleblower. A person can do the right thing and get ostracized by the group. How do you feel about that?

Unfortunately, even on this side of the trial — and I have no regrets, don’t get me wrong — but I wouldn’t recommend it because I can’t tell you that when you file a grievance against your employer of racial discrimination, that it’s not going to cost you your job because it probably will. I’m not gonna tell you it’s not gonna cost you your friends because it probably will. And that’s the part that makes it so hard because you do have to be willing to put it on the table. And I knew that when I filed the grievance, formally in ‘15, and the lawsuit was filed in ‘16. And I’ve told my friends a million times — I knew I would die on this hill. There was no way I was coming back down from this battle.

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There was no way they were going to be like, Okay, Lisa, you’re right. Come on back to work. I knew I was done there. I didn’t know what would get me — they got me with the law suite, the Guardian article about the white girls — but I knew I would die on this hill. But everyone is not in a position to where they can plan their own death when it comes to their career, their finances, their insurance. But that’s exactly what it’s gonna cost them. So now we go back to the producer, we go back to the middle manager, who is looking at the way that people of color are being depicted in television, on the news, in the newspaper… how many times they’re going to push back before they figure out where their place is, if they want to maintain their employment or even their favorable sitting amongst the white people.

Because, I mean the other part of it is…the cold war that starts. It’s not going to open up with, Oh, okay, we don’t like you anymore. Get out. It’s gonna be a cold war. It’s going to be a separation. It’s going to be them speaking to you less, giving you fewer assignments, not asking your opinion on things, and then after a while they figure out a way to get you out the door. So, it has to be a place where black people are in a position to where they are the decision maker. They have the power to say yes or no. Or white people who are enlightened enough, which is why I think the education piece that I work in now are so important because if I could go into the federal defender’s office and educate public defenders on systemic racism, I have to believe that the information that I’m distilling upon them is going to show up somehow in the courtroom. It’s going to show up. And so to me the real win in this space is going to be normalizing conversations about race and then educating white people about the realities of race in this nation. That’s it. Because as long as we allow them not to speak on it and not to be bothered by it or uncomfortable with it, we’re going to be the only ones sitting around uncomfortable.

Anything else you would like to share…

I just think that the sad truth is, this is a fight. This is definitely a fight and an awakening that has to happen when it comes to systemic racism, institutionalized racism and how it shows up everywhere. Even the framework of how these systems were built, with the expectation of white people being superior to black people…That’s just real. I mean, you read your history books and that’s the reality of our history. And so I think one of the realities that I’ve had to really just kind of sit with is, We’re not going to solve it in our lifetime. I’m not going to fix racism in my lifetime. But I do think that collective efforts, working together — and it’s like, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time — We can make changes. We can make a difference in our homes and our communities and our workspaces.

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Even though I no longer work at KSHB-TV…and Dee Jackson, who also filed a discrimination case against KSHB, he doesn’t work there anymore — they got rid of all the problem black people — I do think that even that fight absolutely had an impact at KSHB TV. After my trial, they hired their very first ever black male main anchor who’s still on the anchor desk. They promoted another black woman into a Monday through Friday anchor spot — and Cynthia Newson was already there — So right now they have three Monday through Friday black anchors, which had never happened before. Never happened. We had one, at best, on weekends for the majority of the time I was at that station. So even though I don’t work there anymore, I have to believe that the issues that I raised, the conversations that I raised and the dust that I kicked up during my time there absolutely benefited the people who are still in that space.

I hope that the information, the knowledge, the workshops, the training that I’m doing now will benefit the generations behind me. And even having this conversation, it sounds so dire because you and I are living this experience. But, you have to remember that our ancestors were hung from trees. Could you imagine? I have to remember that my ancestors were raped by their owners. So, I can get down or overwhelmed by the reality of not making equal wages, making less money, not being given the same opportunities for advancement — which was bad, which is why I filed the lawsuit, which is why I went to trial — But I have to know that those who walked before me had a greater burden to carry and they carried the burden so all we could do is pick up our cross and keep walking. And that’s what I think as people we have to do. You have to know that every little thing that you do in this space does make a difference. And if it’s not going to change your reality, it’s going to change the reality of those who walk behind you.

Do The Right Thing film poster

Additional Information

Interview Date: November 9, 2019

Day 27 — Story posted on February 26, 2020

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